During the winter months, or more accurately from November through March, Oahu’s North Shore gets top billing as the center of the surfing universe. And rightly so. But at the other end of Earth’s orbit, during the summer months, Oahu’s South Shore quietly lights up with swell without attracting the many hundreds of mainland and international surfers that flock to the North Shore each year. And just like its famous sibling, the South Shore offers prime spectating at its own popular spots.
From Sand Island to Diamond Head, Oahu’s South Shore collects swell from powerful storms in the South Pacific, energy that travels thousands of miles to Hawaii, South America, Mexico and the U.S. Pacific coast. The swells that arrive at Oahu’s southern shores are not as big and powerful as those on the North Shore, but conditions can become life threatening for all but the most experienced on bigger south swells.
Ala Moana Bowls is the South Shore’s most iconic wave, the wave believed by many to be the one featured at the opening of the original Hawaii 5-0 series (a claim that has never been definitively confirmed and likely never will be). It’s best viewed from across the Ala Wai channel, a couple of hundred yards away. Parking there is plentiful, but fills fast on the weekends and holidays. Riders at Bowls come directly toward spectators at Magic Island, offering dynamic photographic opportunites due to the sea-green water color and trade wind-groomed surface texture. Bowls looks inviting, but it is definitely an experts and locals only spot when the swell is up.
Waikiki Beach and Queen’s Surf in the heart of Waikiki offer quality surf viewing from the comfort of the most famous beach in the world. People have been riding those waves since pre-contact times, but the first Waikiki Beachboys made them famous. Beachgoers can watch all levels of surfing ability in Waikiki, from hapless tourists trying surfing for the first time, to weekend warriors, to young, up-and-coming professional surfers. This is where it all began, and it’s worth plunking down on the sand and taking in the carnival of activity during a strong swell.
Diamond Head Lookout, just outside of Waikiki offers a bird’s eye view of several breaks, the main break at Diamond Head being at the center. At the foot of Diamond Head’s slopes, the lookout offers fairly ample parking, with it getting crowded during a big swell, as the spot generally stays ride-able during even the biggest south swells.
There are plenty of options for those who would like to learn to surf. Rentals and lessons abound in Waikiki, and the famous Waikiki Beach Boys are still there playing their aquatic trade, although the torch continues to be passed to new generations. But if you’re just looking to find an easy spot to watch people ride waves, these three South Shore spots are your best bet.